Frank Hornby's interest in metalworking and industry naturally led him to think about model trains, and his 1901 patent had already included a drawing of how his metal strips could be used to build a working model of a set of railway points.
However, Meccano wasn't ideal for making model trains. Locomotives needed custom flanged wheels, and their distinctive spokes and connections were difficult to create with standard parts. The German companies Märklin and Bing had dominated the UK market for model trains, but during World War One (1914-18) Hornby decided that once the War was over (and materials came back into easy supply), the time would finally be right to launch a range of model trains and accessories.
Where the German companies had supported a range of different sizes and track gauges (0, 1, 2, 3 ...), the new "Hornby Series" trains had the advantage of not having to support all the older "legacy" formats. The new Hornby Trains were only produced in Gauge 0, and this focus on a single scale meant that Hornby could concentrate on producing a wider range of accessories.
Hornby trains were very stylised and sometimes only bore a
passing resemblance to the original locos but their sophistication
improved, and soon Hornby started selling a self-contained
train set, the Zulu,
wagons and track all in a single package. Train sets allowed parents
to buy a complete setup as a Christmas present for their children
without having to become enough of an expert on the subject to be able
to buy all the components individually.
The early Hornby range was presented as an extension of Meccano, with bridge accessories unashamedly made of Meccano plates, and with the Meccano name stamped or stickered proudly on each piece.
Hornby's desire to create toy sets suitable for children rather than just for adult train enthusiasts later led the company to embrace the newer table railway half-scale "00"-gauge format, and Hornby's "Dublo" ("Double-Oh") brand soon became the dominant brand in British toyshops, helped by the fact that Hornby already had distribution and marketing thanks to their Meccano ranges.
However, Hornby still wasn't finished ...